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Saxon on the Storm: Gone may be the days of finding the undrafted gem in the OHL

OHL's new under-18 draft seen as a way of enhancing midget level of hockey
Saxon on the Storm

The days of the Guelph Storm discovering late-blossoming undrafted gems like former stars Matt D'Agostini and Brandon Buck would appear to be over.

The Ontario Hockey League is doing its part to try and protect midget hockey in the province.

This week the league introduced a new under-18 draft. Players who went undrafted in their draft year will now be eligible to be taken in the new four-round u-18 draft.

The new draft will see OHL teams required to draft four players turning 17 or 18 each year. If one of those players is a goaltender, the team has the option of selecting a fifth player in a bonus round.

Teams will pick in the same order as the OHL Priority Selection Draft.

The move is meant to give more meaning and resonance to the midget level of minor hockey in the province and help dull the notion that if you are undrafted and not playing either junior A, B or C hockey, your hockey career is finished.

"We're saying that if you do play midget it's not the end of the road, it's not a last resort, it's something where you can still be recognized, still be identified and become part of the OHL development system," OHL vice-president Ted Baker said in a phone interview.

"We wanted to see how we could enhance the midget brand, enhance that level of hockey: How could we entice players to remain at midget," Baker said.

He said the intent is not to convince players to forgo legitimate, good opportunities at the junior A and junior B level, "but if they choose to play midget, to have it recognized as a destination where players continue to be developed and then be recognized for that development."

The draft, Baker said, is "a carrot."

"You can stay home, play midget, play with your friends in your own age group, and if you do well you can be recognized and still be drafted."

Baker said there has been no corresponding discussion about reducing the number of rounds in the 15-round OHL Priority Selection main draft.

The under-18 draft pretty much eliminates the concept of a free agent signing, other than those from out of province.

The rule prohibiting teams from signing undrafted 16-year-olds remains, and free agent 19-year-olds playing in Ontario are virtually unheard of.

The only difference there is that instead of having to go through the Priority Selection draft a second time before becoming a free agent, you now go through the new midget draft.

Do teams have the time and resources to scout the midget level of hockey?

Not likely. It will mostly be on a referral basis that they would then go out and check out a player. Scouts are busy enough watching minor midget games, and some bantam action, to take time to scout the midget level for the most part.

The premise appears a noble one. And legitimate.

How it plays out in reality remains to be seen.